Pol­i­tics at close quar­ters

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS | - TARA BRADY

CLASH (ESHTEBAK) ★★★★ Di­rected by Mo­hamed Diab. Star­ring Nelly Karim, Hany Adel, Tarek Ab­del Aziz, Ahmed Malek, Ahmed Dash, Husni Sheta, Aly El­tayeb, Amr El Kady, Mo­hamed Abd El Azim, Gameel Bar­soum, Ashraf Hamdy, Mo­hamed Tarek, Ahmed Ab­del Hameed. Cert 15A, lim­ited re­lease, 98mins Claus­tro­pho­bics are ad­vised to steer clear of this de­li­ciously high-con­cept drama, set en­tirely in the back of a pad­dy­wagon. An in­tro­duc­tory scroll re­minds us of the con­text for this nail-bit­ing po­lit­i­cal thriller. The year is 2013, just af­ter the Egyp­tian mil­i­tary top­pled the Mus­lim Brother­hood gov­ern­ment of Mo­hamed Morsi. Army chief Ab­del Fat­tah el-Sisi has seized power. Vi­o­lent clashes be­tween sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the then-elected Mus­lim Brother­hood gov­ern­ment, are erupt­ing all over Cairo.

The po­lice re­spond with chaotic blus­ter, by throw­ing two jour­nal­ists – Adam (Hany Adel) and his pho­tog­ra­pher Zein (Mo­hamed El Se­baey) – into the van. The de­tainees are soon joined by de­mon­stra­tors cel­e­brat­ing Morsi’s oust­ing, and later, by pro-Brother­hood ac­tivists.

Ten­sions (un­der­stand­ably) rise in the 8m-squared space, of­ten be­tween those who are nom­i­nally on the same side. A nurse (Nelly Karim) is fu­ri­ous that her hus­band (Tarek Ab­del Aziz) dragged their ado­les­cent son (Ahmed Dash) along to the rally that has landed all three of them in cus­tody.

Out­side, soar­ing tem­per­a­tures, shoot­ings, crazed crowds, and an ab­sence of lead­er­ship and avail­able prison cells, leave the over­crowded ve­hi­cle stranded, to bake in heat, un­cer­tainly and fear.

Mo­hamed Diab’s ea­gerly awaited fol­low-up to Cairo 678, was shot largely in se­cret. De­spite the film’s care­ful in­clu­sion of all pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions , and de­spite its’ old-school ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ hu­man­ism, Clash has ir­ri­tated Egypt’s rul­ing class. Last year, a 10-minute seg­ment on ERTU, the state-op­er­ated TV broad­caster, ac­cused Diab of be­ing a spy. Other out­lets sug­gested that the film­maker sup­ported ter­ror­ism, the Mus­lim Brother­hood, and (huh?) Zion­ism.

Ig­nore the pro­pa­ganda: this is a very fine pic­ture, wor­thy to stand shoul­der-to-shoul­der with such tricky, sim­i­larly themed films as Lifeboat and Le­banon. Ratch­et­ing ten­sions and genre thrills drag the viewer, like the un­for­tu­nate char­ac­ters, into murky po­lit­i­cal tur­moil.

Props to a com­mit­ted cast, a brave di­rec­tor and to DOP Ahmed Gabr for re­mind­ing us that “cin­e­matic” doesn’t have to mean wide, open spa­ces.

Locked up: Mo­hamed Diab’s Clash

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